BEIRUT — Caretaker Social Affairs Minister Hector Hajjar said Wednesday after a meeting about Syrian refugees attended by President Michel Aoun, caretaker Foreign Affairs Minister Abdallah Bou Habib and General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim, that the government will inform the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, that it should “coordinate with the Lebanese government on all issues related to Syrian refugees” instead of “taking decisions that are related to this file exclusively.”
Here’s what we know:
• In a tweet, Hajjar said that UNHCR will be “reminded of the procedures of dealing with it [cabinet] in this file instead of taking decisions that are related to this file exclusively.” He added, “We will also discuss all of these issues with [caretaker] Prime Minister Najib Mikati in order to make implementable decisions.”
• On July 5, UNHCR said in a statement that it is not part of any negotiations or plans to return refugees from Lebanon to Syria en masse. The statement came after Lebanon’s caretaker Minister of the Displaced Issam Charafeddine announced the day before that Lebanese officials are working on a plan to repatriate 15,000 Syrian refugees to Syria every month. In its statement, UNHCR also said that it “continues to call on the government to respect the fundamental right of all refugees to a voluntary, safe and dignified return and the principle of non-refoulement.”
• According to UNHCR, “voluntary returns” of refugees to Syria have been recorded since 2016. There are currently about 839,000 registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon, although the actual number in the country is unknown, as the Lebanese government asked UNHCR to stop registering refugees in 2015.
• Previous initiatives by Lebanese authorities for the return of the refugees, including in coordination with Russian officials, have not led to mass returns.